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My Story: Ashes to Ashes by Stopfordian Stationer

The period I described in the previous instalment was probably the most intensive one in terms of different cuts and styles and hair lengths over a relatively short space of time and the main event was finally being able to pick how I wanted to look and tell Richard myself. I stuck with the short back and sides and side parting as I went through my final year at school before doing my GCSEs. I guess I had always felt like a bit of an outsider wherever I had been but I was becoming more comfortable in my own skin as I got older and my evolving haircuts were part of that process. I couldn’t say whether getting a short haircut made me more self-confident or being more self-confident allowed me to get a short haircut but there was definitely some connection between the two. Either way I was now being complimented on how I looked by my peers rather than teased about it and I slowly began to realise that people actually seemed to like me for who I was, which was something I had never really felt before.

Whilst I was happy with my haircut now and had kept it the same for the longest period I had kept any cut since I gained control, there was always the sense that there was something more out there. Richard had continued to talk about bringing the smallest combs for me and the phrase "nice and short" that he had first used when I got my current cut was something we always exchanged before he started. I began to think more about what the next step might be but nothing else happened until the following summer, about six weeks before my sixteenth birthday. I had finished daily school by now and was doing my GCSEs so I only had to go in when I had an exam. Officially this was to allow us to revise but I seem to remember more time spent watching TV and chatting on the phone to friends rather than revising.

On this particular day I was watching cricket on TV, it was the first day of the Ashes series between England and Australia. This was at the end of the 1980s before the days of satellite TV and sports channels and test matches then were on the BBC. I wasn’t madly into cricket so it didn’t have my undivided attention but I happened to glance at the screen and catch a glimpse of one of the Aussie substitute fielders running on with a drink or a pair of gloves or something. It looked like he had a pretty sharp haircut so I took a bit more notice but he quickly ran off again and that was that. Later in the afternoon, one of the Aussie batsmen had made a century (a frequent event against England in those days!) and was raising his bat in celebration to the crowd. The camera then cut to a close-up of the same substitute I had noticed earlier to show him applauding and gave a clearer view of his head. The camera went back to the pitch but the haircut was now on my mind. As luck would have it, Richard was coming the following week.

There was no wall to wall coverage and hours of reruns at that time but there was a brief highlights programme on late in the evening. It occurred to me that the footage of the guy with the haircut might appear in the highlights if they showed him as part of the other player scoring a century, which would definitely be in there. I decided to record the programme on the off chance and set the timer on the video. I had an exam the following day so wasn’t able to look at the recording until after I had got back from school in the evening. I fast forwarded through to see if what I wanted was there and sure enough it was. I immediately went back to the right place and hit the pause button. Although the picture wasn’t great on pause, fortunately most of the blurring was in the middle of the screen and the top part was clear. I could see now his hair was pretty short at the back and sides and clipped high at the back and over his ears with the top cut short, spiking up slightly and parted and brushed right back off his forehead. My first thought was "That looks cool." My second was "I’m getting that haircut next week." I showed my parents and Alex the paused image to let them know what I had planned and nobody was bothered, they half expected me changing haircuts now. I wondered about how to describe it to Richard but then I realised I could just show him the paused image on the screen. Finally an advantage of having my hair cut at home!

The following Tuesday evening I sat in the front room watching for Richard arriving. When I saw him park outside, I went to open the door and asked if he could come in the front room for a minute as I had something to show him. I put the image up and asked ‘Can you cut my hair like that please?’
He studied the screen and said ‘Yeah, I should be able to do something like that. Looks like a number two on the back and sides and a bit spiky on the top. I can cut yours shorter so it spikes slightly but I probably won’t be able to take yours as short as that else it will really stick up. His hair looks thicker than yours and it has got a bit of curl to it. Yours is straighter and finer.’
I already knew that my hair stuck right up if it was cut too short, especially at the crown, if it wasn’t for that I would have had it cut a lot shorter by now. ‘OK just do it as close to that as you can. I don’t want it stuck up everywhere so it won’t lie down at all.’ We then discussed the final details such as sideburn length and how short the fringe should be before it was pushed back off my forehead before I turned off the TV and went to wash my hair.

After I did that and changed into a shirt I came down to find Alex already done and Richard waiting for me. I sat down and he caped me up before combing in my parting as usual. When everything was ready, he went in his bag for the clippers before plugging them in and turning them on and coming behind me. Richard moved my head down, brought the clippers to the back and moved them up. And up. And up. This was way higher than he normally went but I remembered that was how the cut was. I also remembered that as well as going higher, this was a shorter comb on the clippers so they would also be taking the back and sides shorter. "Oh well," I thought. "You wanted it short and you are getting it short." After going all the way up the back a few times, he then clipped me high up over the sides as well, it felt like it wasn’t even that far from the crown. When the back and sides were done, he blended it in with clippers over comb right at the top at the back and sides before turning off the clippers and going for the scissors. Richard picked up lengths of hair and snipped them off, moving from back to front and kept combing the top back as well as from left to right. Finally the fringe was done and combed right back off my forehead. He dried it into that style and put some gel on before brushing everything in to place. He took the cape off me and I went straight to the mirror on the wall, moving my hand backwards over the slightly spiky hair on top that went across and back from my exposed forehead. The sides looked much shorter and were shaved so high up compared to what I was used to but I would be inspecting that in more detail in the mirror upstairs shortly.
‘I have probably cut it a bit too short on the top to lie down 100%,’ Richard told me. ‘But you wanted it a bit spiky so it will do the trick for that. Just put a bit of gel on it every morning and you will be fine.’
‘That is great,’ I told him. ‘It’s exactly what I wanted, thank you so much.’
‘No problem,’ replied Richard. ‘Even shorter now for the boy who never wanted to get his hair cut!’
I laughed. Those days were a long way behind now. When I checked the back in the mirror and felt it, I loved it even more and I knew I was now moving towards really short. I knew already that this was a keeper which was reinforced by positive reactions from my family and also from my mates the next day when I went to school to do an exam.

For all the cut itself was a keeper, it turned out to be the last time Richard cut my hair at home. He was now working later in the shop and was struggling to make it to evening appointments. He had missed a couple with us previously and had to rearrange. The next time he was due to come was a few days before I was going on holiday with mum and dad and he rang on the evening to say he couldn’t come but might be able to make it the night after so he would ring during the day to let us know. I knew dad wouldn’t want to go on holiday without getting a haircut and the thought occurred to me that we might actually end up going to his shop but I didn’t want to admit that was a possibility and then end up disappointed. I was out with Alex the next day but he rang home to see whether Richard was coming and if we needed to be there for a particular time. There were no mobiles in those days and he called from a phone box so I was outside and couldn’t hear the conversation. ‘What’s happening then?’ I asked when he came out.
‘He can’t come tonight or this week,’ Alex told me.
‘What then?’ I asked. ‘We are going away in a couple of days and my dad won’t want to wait a couple of weeks.’
Alex’s reply was music to my ears. ‘You and my dad are going to the shop tomorrow to get yours cut.’ Finally I was going to get a haircut in a barber’s shop. I couldn’t wait for tomorrow.

It was late the following morning when dad and I set off to Richard’s shop. I knew it was about 20 minutes’ drive away and in the centre of a slightly larger town further out from our local town centre but that was all I knew, I had no idea where it was specifically about where it was or what it was like. I was wondering what the barbershop experience would be like as I had all kinds of questions about would I have my hair washed and how many people worked there and how big it was. We had a short walk from where we parked before dad ushered me through the door and into the place where all my haircuts for the next five years would happen. It was bigger than I was expecting, the first thing as you went in was the waiting area where there was a large sofa on one side, big enough to fit about four people comfortably and four chairs on the other side. Beyond that was the cutting area: there was a counter along each wall with two large sinks on each and a chair in front of the sink so there were two chairs on each side, back to back with the two on the other side but with a decent gap in the middle. Only one side was in use so there were two spare chairs for people to sit on if the waiting area was full. The colour scheme was green, the chairs and capes were all dark green and the towels on the shelves a slightly lighter shade. To my slight disappointment the chairs were on wheels and moved around rather than having a traditional base. I wasn’t going to complain though when I was finally in a barber’s shop waiting to have my hair cut. We sat down next to each other on the sofa to wait.

There were a few people in front of us so I was able to check out the routine. Nobody had their hair washed, it was something you had to ask (and pay extra) for and it was clippers first followed by scissors. The thing that was different was that Richard and the other barber working used a spray bottle to wet customers’ hair before they cut it with scissors. That was a new one on me although I suppose I had never needed it since I had always washed my own hair at home. There were no particularly interesting cuts to watch although the last guy to go before me had his longish hair shaved to a number two at the back and sides and spiked up on top which was becoming fairly trendy at the time. Richard used a plastic flat top comb and ran the clippers over that to get the spikes to an even length. When he was finished, I stepped up and got in the chair. I was caped up and finally got to see myself sitting in the barber’s chair and caped up ready for a haircut. There is nothing to report about the cut itself as it was just the same as my last one but it was strange finally being able to see my hair being clipped and then cut since I had not had a mirror to look in for years. After the clippers, I was sprayed, scissored and finished off as usual before dad got his cut. We both waited for Richard rather than one of us having the other barber do it.

The next time we went to the shop was the day before I started sixth form. My GCSE results had been good and I was staying on at the same school. Dress requirements were different now as rather than an actual uniform we were required to wear either a jacket and trousers or a suit plus a shirt and the designated sixth form tie. That meant I now had my first suit which I was looking forward to putting on the day after. Since I wasn’t changing my hairstyle for the moment, I decided that I would get my hair washed as a different experience. It cost an extra pound but I told my dad I would be washing it myself that night so it made sense to get it done whilst we were there. He didn’t argue with my impeccable logic. We didn’t have to wait long when we got there and when Richard was free he turned to dad and me and asked who was going first. I got up and went to Richard’s chair but wasn’t quite sure about the etiquette as I was still new to the whole barbershop thing and hadn’t seen anyone have their hair washed yet. As I sat down, I sort of stammered ‘Umm . . . can I have my hair washed please?’
‘Course you can, mate,’ Richard replied. He put the cape on me as usual and then went for one of the towels on the shelf and put it around my shoulders, tucking it into my collar. He then pulled a shower attachment out from the top of the sink in front of me and turned on the taps to check the temperature and once he was happy said to me ‘OK, Patrick, just sit forward for me now and put your head over the basin. I shuffled forward to the edge of the seat, took my feet off the footrest of the chair and put them flat on the floor and then leaned over the basin so I was looking at the bottom of it and could see the water from the shower running down the plug hole. I then felt the water on the back of my head and Richard asked ‘Is that OK for you?’
The temperature was nice so I just replied ‘Yes that’s fine, thanks.’ Richard then moved the shower fully over my head so he was able to wet all of my hair properly. When that was done he turned the shower off and I waited, assuming he had gone for the shampoo. A few seconds later I felt his hands on the back of my head as he began to massage the shampoo into my scalp. He rubbed it in all around and went over and over several times and I found it a nice relaxing sensation. Finally the shower came on again and Richard rinsed the lather away until it was all gone before pulling the bottom of the towel up from my shoulders so it wrapped around my head while the top part still remained tucked in to the cape and my collar.
‘You can sit back now,’ Richard said, so I did and put my feet back on the footrest of the chair. Richard towelled my hair until it was almost dry and wiped my face with the towel before removing the towel and throwing it in a bin where all the used towels went. My haircut then proceeded as normal but the hair wash was something new to tick off the list.

Dad and I got into a routine of going on Saturdays every five or six week